What is a Wet Vacuum?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 07 October 2019
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A wet vacuum is a vacuum which has been designed to cope with wet materials. Standardized vacuums can only be used on dry messes, as water and other fluids can clog their mechanisms, cause shorts, or otherwise damage the vacuum. Wet vacuums or wet vacs as they are colloquially known are capable of coping with liquid messes, using containerized systems to protect the workings of the vacuum from the water.

One of the most famous brands of wet vacuum is the Shop-Vac®, which has become so widely-known that people sometimes use “Shop-Vac” generically to refer to any sort of wet vacuum. Originally designed for use in workshops and on construction sites, these durable vacuums have become popular in other regions as well, and they can be seen in operation everywhere from zoos to aircraft. Manufacturers also offer a range of sizes, varying from industrial to hand held, so that consumers can pick a vacuum which suits their needs.

Wet vacuums are canister vacuums, since a vacuum bag could disintegrate if it was filled with wet material. In some cases, the canister can be removed and emptied, while in other instances, the whole vacuum may need to be tilted to dump the contents. Some work with optional plastic bags which can be fitted into the canister to collect materials, and others have a reversal switch which allows the user to blow out the contents of the canister, a procedure best done outside.


There are all sorts of uses for a wet vacuum, ranging from cleaning up spilled water and other liquids to cleaning out large canisters and drums which have been used to hold liquids. At a winery, for example, once tanks or barrels have been drained, they are cleared with a wet vacuum before being washed and allowed to dry for re-use. Some people use wet vacuums to cope with minor leaks in the basement or around washing machines, and they can also be used for creative applications like cleaning the bed of a truck or van after it has been hosed out.

Although a wet vacuum is designed to handle wet materials, it usually cannot be submerged, as it has electrical components which could be damaged. For cleaning, these vacuums can be broken down to clear the vacuum hose, the canister, and other components, and to replace any parts which have become damaged or worn. Because wet vacs are contained, there are no filters to clean, and most lack belts, since they do not usually have beater bars.


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Post 3

@SarahGen-- I have a sixteen gallon Shop-Vac and I'm satisfied with its performance. I had my walls done last month and I don't think I could have cleaned up all the dust if I didn't have a wet vacuum. I basically wet the floors and walls and vacuumed it all up before we started breathing in the dust. If a sixteen gallon is too big for you, there are fourteen gallon and ten gallon versions too.

I don't think the brand that you get matters as much as the product features. You want to make sure that the vacuum is strong enough to clean spills. The more powerful the engine is, the better it will perform. I think a minimum six horsepower motor is a must. It's also a good idea to find out about how loud the vacuum is, as well as the different hose ends that come with it.

Post 2

@SarahGen-- I think most of the wet vacuums are also wet and dry vacuums, so they work for both wet and dry surfaces. As for the canister, it's not heavy but if you're planning on cleaning up really big spills, you can get a wet vacuum with a drain hose instead.

This type doesn't have a canister, just a hose that you place in the sink or the toilet and all the water is transferred through the hose. You don't have to do any lifting with those.

I have a wet vacuum and I use it often around the house, especially in the garage. My wet vacuum is for spills only (not for dry surfaces). It doesn't come

with a canister, it comes with buckets instead. The vacuum sits on top of the bucket and when the bucket is full, I remove the vacuum and place it on another bucket. This makes cleaning up big spills very easy. But you do have to carry and dump the buckets yourself.
Post 1

Can anyone suggest a specific type of wet vacuum cleaner for me? I did a quick search online and there are many more brands and types than I expected.

I don't need a very large wet vacuum but I want something that is multi-functional. It should be able to work on dry surfaces as well as wet.

Also, are the canisters in wet vacuums very heavy? I have a bad back, so I'm not sure if I would be able to lift a heavy canister full of liquid. What other alternatives are available with wet vacuums other than canisters?

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